Nigerians will not regret giving Buhari a second mandate

[FILE PHOTO] Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Mustapha Boss

Recently reappointment Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, interacted with select journalists on his experience in the ‘engine room’ of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, the dynamics of the OSGF and its interface with the bigger bureaucracy. Terhemba Daka was there.

What does President Buhari’s re-election symbolize?
It was a hard-earned victory and we worked very hard for it. In 2015, I was his Director, Contact and Mobilisation, so I know the amount of work we put in then. We had certain assurances because of how well he had done in the last three and a half years leading to the last general elections.

We were confident that he was going to win. I was pleasantly surprised that he won with a much larger margin than in 2015. That gives me the satisfaction that Nigerians are quite happy and thrilled about his leadership style, his integrity and sincerity of purpose. He is a man that has no other agenda, but the pursuit of better things for the good people of Nigeria. I am happy that he was re-elected. It is a thing of joy for us.

What prepared you for the demands of this office?
When I assumed duty on November 1, 2017, I didn’t come with any special skills. The only thing I believed brought and sustained me from where I was coming from, and by extension to where I am, is the grace and favour of God upon my life.

I felt that no special skill could sustain me in this office except I trust in God and ask for enablement on a daily basis. I came with the leadership skill that, whoever was ready to work, could easily work with me. I have not changed the secretaries and security staff I met in office, even the directors and permanent secretaries except for the ones that were brought in. I have not requested for anybody to be changed, because I believe every Nigerian is able to put in his/her best if the enabling environment is created.

What would you say are the challenges of the office?
The truth about it is that in every working place, you come across challenges. Probably the speed at which you want to move might not be the speed allowed by the system.

We have a bureaucratic system that helps, which is not bad because it puts in checks and balances to enable you use your discretion well. Most government activities are done based on available information. But if you do not seek, which sometimes takes time; you will not get the information.

And whatever decision you decide to take may not be the right decision; it would be based on facts or information that are not available to you. So, sometimes I get a little bit constrained, sometimes a little bit frustrated, but I have learnt to be a process man.

The truth is that the Nigeria project is a very complex project and because of the complexity of the Nigeria project, sometimes it brings to bear on what you can and cannot do in office.

I do not consider that a challenge, because that is the only way to build a nation, by going through the intractable problems that confront the country and finding solutions. That is the job I have been given to do and I am glad doing it.

Can we know some of your major achievements?
At the onset, I noticed there was so much I needed to do to create synergy, achieve coordination with my colleagues in council, with the ministries and agencies. I can say we have succeeded in doing that.

Also to help government track its policies and programmes, last year I had the courtesy of launching a compendium of about 1,042 pages of council memos initiated by this administration from 2015 to December, 2017. I got the President to authorise that for the first to three months of 2019, every cabinet member should do a presentation on what s/he has been able to do from day of appointment as a minister.

All the cabinet ministers, including me, had to do physical presentation of the policies that were initiated by the ministries, the contracts approved by the cabinet and the programmes executed in order to give details and at the end of the exercise we saw where we were.

It was like a mid-term report and compilation of what the government has been able to achieve, how much money is expended, what were the statuses of projects, what were outstanding and the challenges.

That gives me a big sense of satisfaction that we were able to achieve much and because of that I was able to see how the government was moving. For the first time in the history of this country, we held three Federal Executive Council meetings in one week as we came to the end of the first tenure.

I got the President to approve Wednesday, which is our statutory day, Thursday and Monday as well and within that period, we considered well over a hundred memos and sealed up the first term in a grand way.

I was quite satisfied that I was able to drive my colleagues that way and achieve the kind of end we achieved. I believe most of the ministers that left the cabinet like the President said in his valedictory speech, should be proud of themselves because of what we were able to achieve.

Never in the history of this nation has any Federal Executive Council been able to achieve within a short period of time what we achieved in our last sitting. It was so amazing and I believe those are some of the things I give myself a pat on the back for.

The general excitement is the seamless transmission of information and documents in coordinating government activities and creating a very favourable atmosphere of work between this office and the National Assembly.

Those are some of the things I will look back on and say “probably I could have done it better, but I did my best. And I think I can appreciate some of the achievements and the responses we got.

How would the government meet expectations of Nigerians?
I am one Nigerian that is very optimistic and full of expectations that looking into the future, there are great things coming the way of Nigeria. I know that in his second term, President Muhammadu Buhari, would keep his focus on the three things he promised, because we have not gotten over all the issues yet.

He is going to concentrate on that and probably drive it even much harder so that by the time he leaves in 2023; there will be sustainable legacies, because of what he did, as a hallmark of our nation. I am confident and really expectant, that as our resources improve in the area of revenue generation, rise in the crude oil prices, making more money available and the tax net expanded to bring in more resources, I believe we will be able to deliver substantially on some of the promises he has made. I am very confident that Nigerians will not regret giving him a second mandate.

Can you x-ray the dynamics of running six departments and 22 agencies under OSGF?
One of the responsibilities of the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) is to co-ordinate policies formulated by ministries, departments and agencies. The 22 agencies report directly to this office and six permanent secretaries are charged with the responsibility of overseeing those offices.

I dare say it is quite a lot of responsibility coordinating government policies and ensuring their implementation. In addition, this office provides the secretariat for the Council of State, Federal Executive Council and other committees chaired by the President.

We provide secretariat services to track policies, projects and programmes that have been approved and put in place to ensure that the policies are properly implemented. Generally, we provide co-ordination for government and we ensure that government does not work at cross-purposes; that synergies are provided and they interlace.

How does your office relate with the 36 state governments?
When I assumed office in November 2017, I realized that so many things that were decided at the federal level never held in the states. There was a big communication gap. Since we provide secretariat services to FEC, we decided to extend it to the cabinet affairs offices of the various states.

We developed a handbook on how to manage a cabinet affairs office, which was launched a few months ago. So we have been going about to ensure that my colleagues in this office have a link between the federal and state governments for purposes of pushing the change agenda.

Currently, state governments have realized that there was so much going on at the federal level that their states were not benefitting from appropriately. For instance, when we got the Central Bank to speak about the Anchor Borrowers Scheme, a lot of the secretaries to the state governments were amazed that there was so much money available that their people could access. 

When we started talking about the School Feeding Programme, many state governments were reluctant and some asked what are you talking about? Some of the states that had logged into the programme tried to explain what was happening in terms of school enrolment with the nutrition and health of the children.

That helped in convincing other state governments that they needed to key in and begin to appropriate those benefits coming to their states. Initially, the perception was that it is a political move to capture the states, but by the time they realized that it was for the benefit of their people, they jumped into the truck.

But do political differences affect such national programmes?
The OSGF has the Special Services Office, which provides the secretariat to the office of the National Security Adviser and deals with security matters. We hold meetings of permanent secretaries at different levels of different states with their permanent secretaries to ensure synergy in dealing with security matters of this country.

When it comes to looking at the security architecture, we agreed that if there is no synergy on the security machinery, security personnel, security apparatus will operate at cross purposes and that could spell danger for the country.

So, we try as much as possible to create that synergy, with this office coordinating a routine meeting as often as possible, monthly or quarterly depending on the need, so that we can discuss the security implications of what is happening all over the country.

The country is being threatened by different dimensions of security challenges, as such this office co-ordinates, provides information, logistics support in terms of intelligence with different machineries of our nation to effectively deal with the security challenges.

How does your office harmonise relationship among the three arms of government, particularly the National Assembly?
When I assumed office, I went to the National Assembly to the Senate President and Speaker of the House Representatives to extended a hand of fellowship and partnership. I informed them that we couldn’t do this business alone, that we need their support; in as much as whatever we want to do, we would need money.

Many government policies require legislation and if you don’t have a good working relationship with the National Assembly, how do you get legislative backing for the policies?

The President has signed a couple of executive orders, but the executive orders are different from proper legislations that drive policies, create establishments or agencies to push a particular agenda. So, you need the legislature. I have tried as much as possible to do what needs to be done with the legislature and even the judiciary for mutually beneficial relationships.

What are the aims of the new guidelines from the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU)?
The NFIU establishment law empowers it to monitor withdrawals, movements of funds, everything that deals with finances as it affects our nation. We have to keep watch on the movement of funds all over the world. There is the tendency for government to be interested in how funds are used, because funds have become instrument of destabilization in most countries.

It is therefore important that we as Nigerians follow up, keeping in mind how funds are moved within the system. It can destabilize the nation’s economy and the security architecture, so we have to be very careful.

NFIU used to be part of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), that has now receded and we are now trying to do its job. What I am saying is that in doing their job, we have to manage it in such a way that we are all partners.

We are all working for the same system to ensure that our people benefit from whatever policies or establishments that are put in place. We would try as much as possible to create a platform to resolve whatever issues might arise.

How far has the Buhari administration fared on its three key promises?
When President Buhari came in, a substantial part of the local governments in the North East were under Boko Haram insurgents. But as a matter of fact, I was shocked when the governor of Borno State at a recent meeting disclosed that in 2015, 22 out of 27 local governments in Borno State were actually under Boko Haram.

Today, I can boldly say that not a single local government is under Boko Haram. We are not completely out of the woods yet, but all the local governments that used to be under Boko Haram occupation have been liberated. People have returned to their homes.

We have incidents of banditry, which has taken a new dimension altogether. Kidnapping is no longer just for the sake of it; rather it is becoming a commercial enterprise. And banditry in the North West, if care is not taken, could be another insurgency, because they come in, take territories and even dare authorities and securities agencies.

Many aspects of this crisis are manifesting, but we have tried as much as possible to deal with them. You can see there is relative calm even in the Southern part of the country. The South-South was a major challenge at the time we came in 2015, but because of the interface, mediation, negotiation, including extending a hand of fellowship and assurances, there has been relative peace. So also with the issues of self-determination exhibited in South Eastern part.

So many interfacing is going on with the governors and South East leadership trying to dissuade people from towing such a path that will not benefit anybody. So, as much as possible, in the area of securing the nation, we are doing as much as humanly possible to contain issues of security as they manifest in different dimensions.

We have also tried to interface with traditional rulers, who are the first responders in most communities through the National Council of Nigeria Traditional Rulers, co-chaired by the Ooni of Ife and the Sultan of Sokoto.

The Nigeria Inter-Religious Council existed before I came into office, but no meetings were held for a period of about six years. I had to do a lot of spadework to convince the leadership that we needed to go back to negotiation table and begin to talk.

When the people outside began to see the leaders of different faiths talking, it encouraged them to have a sense or feeling that our problems would be sorted out. That has helped us tremendously and we have had meetings in all the six geo-political zones at different levels. It is the same with the National Council for Traditional Rulers, which is part of what the government is doing, as well as the OSGF, because we are responsible for public safety and security.

In the area of fighting corruption, so much has been achieved in terms of recoveries. As we go into 2019-2023, government will be looking at strengthening institutions; putting in place mechanisms to help stop corruption from taking place at all. It comes with a lot of expenses, which I know requires paradigm shift.

One thing we can do is to begin to create safety nets in the workplace for the people. Fear of the unknown is one motivating factor for corruption. You are working today but the future is uncertain, soon you will be 60. The worker says, I don’t have a home, a good car, still have kids in school; how will I cope with that kind of life? That propels him into morbid quest for wealth and generally, that propels people to want to acquire as much money as possible.

But once you create safety nets; something that can take care of them in times of any major accident, insurance packages that can cover them and their families, there would be less tendencies of indulging in corrupt practices.

Nobody wants to be stigmatized with corruption, that is the truth. But I know it is fear of the unknown that normally disposes people for corruption. Going forward, we should strengthen the institutions and build capacities for them; ensure too that we create safety nets around the whole place so that people can have a bit of comfort.

No administration has ever recovered the kind of money we have recovered, the kind of properties seized and now going through the processes of temporary forfeiture and eventual permanent forfeiture.

Then there is the aspect of diversification of the economy. I think we have done very well in this area, particularly in the area of development of infrastructure. Long time ago, most countries knew that if they could provide roads, provide rails, then they would open up their nations for influx of businesses. In that area we have succeeded tremendously.

So much investment has also gone into agriculture. The Anchor Borrowers’ scheme has provided huge resources. As at the time we went into campaigns, about N86 billion was expended and you know how many millionaires have come out through the scheme, particularly in the area of growing rice. We grew the population of rice farmers from four million to 12 million and a mass of people have benefitted from the scheme.

The Social Investment Programme has done so much in creating wealth for the small business people, be it the Farmers Money or the Trader Money or Market Money. So many of these programmes have helped generate employment for the people.

The School Feeding Programme has created wealth such that so many people have gone back to the farms; millions are required to feed the students on a daily basis. So many food vendors and women employed as cooks servicing that particular industry. I believe we have diversified the economy to a large extent.

We realized that we came at a time of major drop in crude oil prices, but we were able to navigate and come out of recession. I think we have done so well and therefore we can do better for the people of this country.
But the government has been accused of lethargy in tackling herders-farmers conflict and the banditry in the North West…  

It is quite unfair for anybody to accuse this government of being lethargic in dealing with herders-farmers’ conflict, because we have been very decisive. The categorisation of Fulani as herdsmen is improper. I am a herdsman, but not a Fulani.

Describing all herdsmen as Fulani is misleading particularly in the northern part of the country. We are all herdsmen, we are all farmers; some are arable farmers, some are herdsmen and all this farming in the agricultural sense is one. One is animal husbandry; the other one is arable farming or crops.

The farmers-herdsmen conflict is not new. They have a pattern in resolving their conflicts in a particular location. If the herdsman allows his animals go into a farmer’s plot and there is destruction, the local community used to sit down to assess the level of destruction. Thereafter the herdsman will be asked to pay.

If unfortunately, the farmer kills an animal belonging to a Fulani man or herdsman, the community will establish the justification for and if there is no justification, he would be asked to pay. So, we have a communal way of resolving conflicts.

Ranches and reserves have been in existence. In Adamawa, where I come from, there are several reserves established by law, dating back to the days of Northern Nigeria with defined cattle routes. Abuja is a cattle route defined and gazetted in the laws of Northern Nigeria and similarly in several parts of this country.

There is a major contention going on now; partly economic with the growth in our population. With the growth in urbanization, we have taken some of those reserves and turned them into residential areas. We have built across those cattle routes because there is a traditional pattern of movement that was established over the years.
We have taken the grazing reserves and apportioned them among elite farmers. We have fenced over the places, and these animals will have to feed and would have to get to a source of water in a seasonal movement. That’s why they are called nomads.
We have nomadic fishermen and nomadic herdsmen. In the early part of the 70’s, the military thought it fit to build nomadic schools. There is a commission for nomadic education; most of us do not think that is important. People move across a certain area at a certain time, so we needed to establish schools that will go along with them.
We did that, and even set up a commission but we did not look at the economic aspect that is now rearing its head. There is a competition over land, over control of resources. So much has happened as a result of climate change that was not factored into the whole thing. So, for anybody to say that the government has been lethargic in dealing with that crisis is totally being unfair.
By and large, there must be a systematic way of dealing with that conflict. It requires the inputs of the traditional rulers, religious leaders and community leaders to confront that particular conflict. So, it’s a complex situation and I know that government is decisive in putting apparatus in place to deal with it.
How does your office handle clashes between heads of agencies and management boards?
Most boards were already constituted as at the time I came in, so my responsibility was just releasing the list of board members and chairmen. We partnered the Bureau of Public Service Reforms and other regional agencies to organise retreats for the board members and management.
There is this perception that a politician that has just been given a position as a member or chairman of a board; sometimes come with a sense of entitlement. So, we decided that we needed to put everybody in their rightful compartment and the retreats were meant to acquaint chairmen and board members with their responsibilities.
First is to formulate policies for the day-to-day management of the organisation that is vested in the management team. Often times it is the managing director or a Director General. We witnessed a lot of skirmishes here and there, we tried as much as possible to resolve them by asking the parties to go back to notes taken during the retreats, which clearly defined the two arms of the same organisation.
There were several circulars, even before I came into office as SGF, with clear demarcations between the functions of board and those of management. Often times the office of the Permanent Secretary, General Services, is involved in the mediation. We have tried as much as possible to resolve those issues and where any issue is such that we cannot resolve, we seek direction from the President.

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